One of the downsides to losing the Iron Chef battles, or rather the downside to losing, is that you don’t get to choose the ingredient next time around. Okay, I retract that statement; there is another downside – crushing of pride. Embarrassment. Resulting fear and anxiety about the next one, another losing battle for sure. Soul-stealing. Losing leftovers – who wants those?! I couldn’t even look at the sliders from last time.

Wow, that was intense. And maybe a little dramatic. Whatever.

But when you don’t get to pick the ingredient, you just never ever know how you’re gonna feel about it, until you do. Know, that is, which generally doesn’t happen until the Wednesday before the actual event. So you wait two months in anticipation, since you, er, lost. Remember?

And then someone announces that FENNEL is the god-forsaken theme ingredient. Fennel. Shitfire (yes, this is a word).

As it turns out, f-ing fennel is not my most favorite ingredient on the planet. I was hoping for, I dunno, cheese? Bacon? Crabs? Fire-breathing dragons? Rattlesnake? Durian? Definitely not fennel.

And dang, here I go being dramatic again. I really don’t hate fennel. Honest. I just, as my gramma would have said, I just don’t love it. And these secret ingredients – they need to be loved. You need to be excited about them. You need to want to slather them all over your body, and eat them till the cows come home.

dishes, left to right: fennel crackers with roasted fennel dip, fennel-lamb kebabs with fennel chutney, green salad with shaved fennel and parmesan, fennel ice cream sundae, random shot of food, homemade smoked salmon and pear crostini with fennel cream, porchetta-fennel pulled pork with pickled fennel, fennel ice cream with chocolate fennel tuile, fennel angel food cake with candied fennel

Or do you?

The top three:

  1. Heather’s Fennel Dessert Sundae (fennel ice cream, fennel-manchego shortbread, and orange-fennel caramel) AND Jeff’s house-made smoked salmon with fennel and fennel cream fraiche)
  2. Elizabeth’s fennel ice cream (which was better than mine) with chocolate fennel tuile
  3. Kevin’s lamb-fennel kebabs with fennel chutney


Four SF battles in, I finally made a dish worthy of a win, or at least a shared win. With fennel, of all things. But I sucked it up and I liked it, and I liked ALL of the dishes made. And my dish? I just stuck with things that I do LOVE – ice cream, caramel, and shortbread. I figured, even if I don’t LOVE fennel, I’d at least love the mediums that included it.

So here we are – at an Iron Chef first – a tie. Picking the next ingredient (or ingredients, depending on what we decide) should be fun. Plus, my pride will be intact – for once. ūüôā

ps – the shortbread recipe is coming soon. but it’s so dang good, I just had to give it it’s own post. had to.

Fennel Ice Cream
From Gourmet 2007 via Epicurious; makes ~1 quart

time commitment: variable. at least 3 hours (1 hour active time), or you can do this in steps and make the base the night before and freeze the ice cream the next day.

printable version

1 2/3 c heavy cream (or 1/2 & 1/2)
1 T fennel seeds, crushed
1 c whole milk
3/4 c sugar, divided
4 large egg yolks

ice cream maker

Bring cream and fennel seeds just to a simmer in a small heavy saucepan, then cover and let steep about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring milk, 1/2 c sugar, and a pinch of salt to a simmer in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring.

Whisk together yolks and remaining 1/4 c sugar in a large bowl, then add milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking. Return mixture to medium saucepan and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until mixture coats back of spoon and registers 175¬įF on an instant-read thermometer (do not let boil). Immediately strain custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a heat-proof bowl. Strain fennel cream into the same bowl, pressing on solids while straining to extract as much flavor as possible. Mix together.

Quick-chill by setting bowl in an ice bath and stirring occasionally until cool, about 15 minutes. You can also just chill the mixture in the fridge overnight, if you allow an extra day for this.

Once mixture is chilled, freeze in ice cream maker according to machine’s instructions (usually 15-20 minutes). Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden, about 1 hour.


Orange-Fennel Caramel Sauce
original recipe; makes ~1/2 c

time commitment: 30 minutes

printable version

1 c sugar (+ more to thicken, if needed)
1/4 c water
zest of 1 orange
1/2 c fresh orange juice
1 T fennel seeds
1/4 c heavy cream
1 T butter
1 t sea salt

Combine sugar and water in heavy small saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil and DO NOT STIR. Also, DO NOT WALK AWAY. On occasion, pick the saucepan up and swirl the mixture, but don’t stir. Somewhere between 5-8 minutes the mixture will begin to turn from clear to a light golden color. Once the golden color is more noticeable, remove from heat more often and swirl the mixture. The caramel color will quickly change colors, and will continue to cook in the pan once removed from the heat, so don’t wait to remove the pan when it’s dark, or your sauce will burn. What you want to end up with is a nice, deep golden color that isn’t burnt, so if you don’t get the right color after removing from the heat and swirling, then add it back to the stove for a few seconds at a time. Make sure it’s spot-on before you continue to the next step – it’s better to toss out a little burnt sugar and start over than to have to start all over once you finish everything and realize your caramel tastes burnt and gross.

Once the sauce is the right color, carefully add zest, orange juice, fennel seed, and heavy cream (mixture will bubble vigorously). Stir over low heat until smooth and any caramel bits dissolve. Strain the mixture (twice, if needed) through a fine mesh sieve and pour back into the saucepan.

Now, once I got to this point my sauce was a tad too “watery” for my liking, so I added about a teaspoon of sugar at a time, cooking on medium-low, until it thickened up. I adjusted the amount of sugar on the front end when I wrote this recipe, so yours should be thicker, but feel free to do this if you want to thicken up your sauce and just slowly cook it without a ton of heat until it gets where you want it. Once it does, finish the sauce with the butter and sea salt, and remove from heat to let cool completely. You can strain at the end if you want, but straining earlier was helpful for me to check the thickness.

The sauce will keep for a few days (weeks?) in the fridge. Zap it the microwave for ~30 seconds before serving.

In Moderation

Let me just tell you how outta freaking shape I feel these days. (Yes, we will wrap ice cream into this conversation. Watch and learn, children.) Okay, for realz – how outta freaking shape¬†I am. Let’s be honest. It ain’t pretty.

Sure, my clothes are all the same size; they more or less fit the same as they have for oh, 4 years now. But that’s not the point. There seems to be a lot more wiggle in my jiggle, if you catch my drift. I’d like to blame my love for food, or maybe this blog, or maybe Chicago and San Francisco, or my genes (which that one, that one is a good one – have you seen the hips and thighs of my Southern aunts?!). But at the end of the day, it’s really all because I am a loud and proud, lifetime member of the “clean plate club”. Shoot, I should have a medal for it, or a fake wood plaque, or something.

Yes, I know – you could easily skim through the recipe page and point out quite a few items that would lead to jiggle-y-ness even if eaten in small quantities. I like to indulge. But I also hate the sheer thought of a diet. Sure, they work in the short term, I’m aware of that. But the difficulty is that, after the diet is over, the dieter slowly starts incorporating all of those foods that were off-limits during ‘diet phase’, and then slowly the curves start to reappear.

The key, friends, is everything in moderation. It sounds awesome, but I seem to have forgotten how that works. In an effort to figure it out again, I made ice cream.

Chocolate ice cream. With caramel swirled into it. Don’t get me wrong, I could eat the whole pint if I really put my mind to it, and that’s an exaggeration, because I’m sure I could roll outta bed in a full-on daze and eat a pint of this ice cream. But get this – you definitely don’t need to.

I first noticed this recipe on Tara’s site, and then I quickly realized that I’d already finished that particular episode of Bon Appetit from whence this recipe was made, and so I ran to the toilet (ahem. there is a magazine rack there where we keep old food magazines, and Mens’ Healths, thank you very much.), grabbed the last BA, and hunted down the recipe that I must have totally ignored previously.

Then it sat on the table for a few days, and it’s safe to say I walked past it at least a dozen times, cursing the words chocolate and ice and cream and then I read it even closer and saw that there was caramel involved and finally, at long last, I put this moderation idea to the test.

And just like Tara said, you’ll want to start this task immediately after reading here. You grab your ingredients from the fridge and pantry, because chances are you have them all on hand, or can easily procure them in a few moments. Then you walk, no run, to turn on some good ice cream-makin’ music (something with a lot of fist-pumping), and you plant your feet at the stovetop to get this project going.

Five days later, you remove your almost-but-not-quite-forgotten pint from the freezer, let it thaw for a good ten minutes, and scoop one mighty mound of decadence into a teeny tiny bowl. Because, believe me when I say so, I promise you that’s all you need. And with that, success in the form of ice cream. And moderation.

Chocolate Chocolate Ice Cream
Adapted from Bon Appetit, June 2011; makes 1 pint

time commitment: 5 days, but 1 hour active

printable version

7 ounces dark chocolate (70% to 75% cacao), finely chopped
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons 2% milk
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
6 large egg yolks
13 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Place chocolate in a medium microwave-proof glass bowl. Microwave chocolate on 30 second intervals, stirring well after each time, for about 1.5 minutes, or until the chocolate is smooth. Sit aside.

Whisk milk and cocoa powder in a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat until mixture begins to boil; set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat egg yolks and 7 tablespoons sugar in another medium bowl until very thick ribbons form, about 2 minutes. Whisking constantly, gradually add hot milk mixture to egg yolk mixture. Return mixture to saucepan. Add melted chocolate and whisk to blend. Stir over low heat until slightly thickened and an instant-read thermometer registers 175¬į, about 5 minutes. Transfer chocolate custard to a large bowl and place over another large bowl of ice water. Stir until chocolate custard is cool.

Bring remaining 6 tablespoons sugar and 2 tablespoons water to a boil in a small heavy, deep saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush (do not stir), until a dark amber color forms, about 5 minutes. Gradually whisk in cream (mixture will bubble vigorously). Whisk caramel into chocolate custard. Strain into a large container; cover and chill for 2 days.

Process custard in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to another container; freeze for 3 days before eating.

Better Late Than Never

Man, long weekends really do fly by, don’t they? For those of us with so-called regular 8-5’s, a standard Saturday-Sunday weekend never seems like long enough – no matter how much you like your job. For whatever reason, the few and far between holiday ‘long weekends’ never seem much better, once it’s all said and done.

Except for this weekend – we seemed to cram quite a bit o’ fun into those three days; a tradition I think I can stick to easily, quite honestly.

The weekend started off with a trip to the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market with Chris and my fellow SF transplant via Chicago friend, Judy. While I do adore Chicago’s Green City Market, I have to vote for SF’s markets, hands down, but given the plethora of fresh produce in these parts it’d be hard not to. For starters, I found a stand indoors that specializes in mushrooms and guess what they also brought on the field trip to the market – ramps! Holy hell it took a lot for me to hold it together, but I did – just barely.

Needless to say, ramps were purchased and grilled this weekend. But also! There are fresh oysters at the end of a mere 60-minute line. You don’t get that at most markets, do ya? Probably overpriced, but totally worth it that day.

Saturday ended with an x-box date with Jennifer & Jon (laugh it up, but it is totally awesome), and Sunday was pretty much grill/beer/friends fest. Also, a lot of youtube videos. There was plenty of solid food that will be discussed in a matter of time, but at the forefront of my mind is ice cream.

Oh, right. Saturday also consisted of a trip to The Haight, and Ben & Jerry’s. But that’s not the ice cream that’s on my mind, you see.

It seems I’m grabbing up all of Spring’s produce at the last minute: ramps, strawberries, rhubarb, even fava beans. I figure: better late than never, right? Things stick around a little bit longer out here, and I had to remind myself that even though the produce is more prevalent, it will eventually run out – even here. I got lucky with the ramps, and the rhubarb doesn’t seem to be quite as abundant as I’d expected, either.

Nonetheless, find some I did, and with it I put the ol’ ice cream maker to work for the first time this year. Eating homemade ice cream always leaves me feeling a little bit sheepish, kicking myself in the ass for not making more frozen treats than I do.

Because when your holiday Monday is spent by taking a 2-hour bike trip through the park and to the beach (the beach!) and back, finished off by lounging in the park with a husband, a magazine, and a beer, there’s only one thing that’s missing from that equation, and that’s a pint of fresh, homemade ice cream.

Strawberry-Basil-Rhubarb Ice Cream
adapted from Cooking Light, May 2010; serves 8

time commitment: less than 1 hour for preparing ice cream + at least 8 hours to freeze afterwards

printable version

2 1/2 c reduced fat milk
3/4 c half-and-half
1 handful of fresh basil (~1/2 c)
1 c sugar, divided
3 egg yolks
3 stalks of rhubarb
1/3 c Malbec or other red wine
1 lb fresh chopped strawberries

Combine milk, half-and-half, and basil in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Heat milk mixture to 180¬į or until tiny bubbles form around edge (do not boil). Combine 1/2 cup sugar and egg yolks in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk until pale yellow. Remove basil and gradually add half of hot milk mixture to egg yolk mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk. Pour the egg yolk mixture into pan with remaining milk mixture; cook over medium-low heat until a thermometer registers 160¬į (about 2 minutes), stirring constantly. Place pan in a large ice-filled bowl for 20 minutes or until custard cools completely, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, combine remaining 1/2 cup sugar, rhubarb, and wine in a saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 8 minutes or until rhubarb is tender and liquid is syrupy. Remove from heat; let stand 10 minutes. Combine rhubarb mixture and strawberries in a blender; process until smooth. Strain mixture through a sieve over a bowl, pressing with a wooden spoon; discard solids. Stir rhubarb mixture into custard mixture.

Pour custard into the freezer can of an ice-cream freezer; freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Dessert of Champions

This is an ending to all endings. This is a dessert that’s gonna make you go ‘ooh la la’. This is a dessert that makes you happy for spring and the arrival of those summer days¬†sandwiched in between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Also, you can now wear white shoes. But if you’re a rebel like me, you may have already broken out those white strappy numbers (or flip flops).

Need to make use of bread in your freezer? Make this bread pudding. Or maybe this one, which has alcohol in it. And caramel.

Tired of cereal for breakfast? Have leftover bread pudding. With or without the ice cream. Probably don’t put an egg on top though; this is one breakfast recipe where that might not work so well….

Basically, this is good for just about everything in life.

Come to think of it, ice cream alone¬†solves all of life’s worries. Did the hot sun get you all sweaty and stinky? Eat ice cream – you’ll forget you smell. Did you get in an argument with your spouse? Ice cream makes that seem so unimportant. Did you wake up with a hangover? Yup, ice cream probably makes that go away too. But don’t eat it too fast, because brain freeze is nothing lovely either.

Of course, it helps if that ice cream involves cardamom and vanilla bean. With a side of bread pudding.

On the other hand, a spoonful of caramel powder is probably quicker and easier to make, which is pretty much awesome if all you have at home is a canister of sugar. When all else fails you in this world, you still have sugar. And as long as you have a food processor, you can spin that sugar into pure magic.

And if you can’t quite decide what you need in life, you can make all three – which is exactly what¬†I did. I feel much better about things as a result, and you would too.

Rhubarb-Ginger Cardamom Bread Pudding w/ Cardamom-Vanilla Ice Cream & Salted Caramel Powder

printable version (all 4 components)

Rhubarb, Ginger, & Cardamom Bread Pudding
Adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2010; serves 10-12

printable version (bread pudding only)

1 c seedless raspberry preserves
1/2 c water
1/3 c chopped crystallized ginger
1 T finely grated orange peel
2 1/2 lbs rhubarb (preferably bright red), ends trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch-wide pieces

3/4 c sugar
3 large eggs
2 c 2% milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
cooking spray
1 loaf cardamom-spiced bread (recipe below) or storebought  brioche or challah
(1/2 t ground cardamom, if you don’t make the spice bread)

Whisk preserves and 1/2 c water in heavy large skillet over medium heat until preserves dissolve (if using seeded preserves, strain seeds out and toss seeds; add rest back into skillet). Sprinkle ginger and orange peel over. Scatter rhubarb evenly in skillet. Bring mixture to simmer over medium heat, occasionally stirring very gently, until rhubarb is slightly tender but still intact, about 10 minutes. Pour mixture into large sieve set over large saucepan. Let drain 15 minutes. Cover each separately and chill. Can be made at least 1 day in advance.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Whisk sugar and eggs in medium bowl. Place milk in heavy medium saucepan. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Gradually add hot milk mixture to egg mixture, whisking custard to blend, but doing this slowly so as not to scramble eggs (add ground cardamom here if using).

While heating milk (above), place bread cubes on a sheet pan and toast for about 7 minutes. However, if you have “old” bread that’s somewhat dry/stale, skip this step.

Spray a 9×13-inch baking dish. Arrange enough bread cubes in dish to cover bottom (will have some gaps). Spoon half of rhubarb evenly over. Repeat with bread and rhubarb. Pour custard over. Place baking dish in roasting pan. Add enough hot water to pan to come halfway up sides of dish.

Bake pudding until just set in center, about 50 minutes. Remove from oven. Let stand in water bath 30 minutes; remove. Meanwhile, boil reserved syrup until reduced to 1 cup, about 10 minutes. Keep warm.

Brush top of pudding with some rhubarb syrup. Spoon warm pudding into bowls; top with syrup and ice cream (or whipped cream, or nothing).

Cardamom Spice Bread
Adapted from Saveur Issue #128; makes 2 loaves

printable version

1 1/3 c warm milk
2/3 c sugar
4 t g cardamom
2 1/4-oz. packages active dry yeast
3 eggs, lightly beaten
5-5 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 t kosher salt
5 T unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes, room temp
1 T cream or milk
1 egg yolk

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, combine milk, sugar, 3 t cardamom, and yeast; stir together and let sit until foamy, 10 minutes. Add eggs; mix to combine. Add flour (may not need full amount; add until dough forms)¬†and salt. Replace paddle with hook attachment; knead dough on medium speed for 2 minutes. While kneading, slowly add butter in batches, mixing until incorporated before adding next batch, 3‚Äď4 minutes; continue kneading for 4 minutes more after last of butter is added.

Transfer dough to a bowl oiled or sprayed with cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap; let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Punch down dough; cover again with plastic wrap and let sit until fully risen, 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 375 F.¬†Transfer dough to a work surface and divide into 2 equal pieces. Set 1 piece aside and divide other piece into 3 equal portions. Roll each portion between your palms and work surface to create a 16″ rope. Braid ropes together to form a loaf, following the instructions below. Transfer loaf to a parchment paper‚Äďlined baking sheet. Repeat with second dough piece. Cover loaves with plastic wrap and let sit until slightly puffed up, about 20 minutes. (For fancier braids, search You Tube.)

Whisk together remaining cardamom, cream/milk, and egg yolk in a small bowl; brush over loaves. Bake, one loaf at a time, until golden brown, 20‚Äď25 minutes. Transfer to a rack; let cool 10 minutes before serving.

Cardamom-Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Adapted from The Spice House; serves 6-8

printable version (ice cream only)

prep time: 1-2 days before serving

1 c half & half
1 c organic 2% milk
1/2 vanilla bean
5 green cardamom pods, crushed slightly
4 egg yolks
3/4 c sugar
1/8 t g cardamom

pour half/half and milk into medium-sized heavy saucepan. scrape seeds from vanilla bean, and toss into milk with cardamom and vanilla bean pod. slowly bring to a boil, remove from heat, and cover to steep for about 20 minutes.

slowly heat milk mixture up, just to a boil. meanwhile, whisk egg yolks and sugar together until light yellow. when milk is just boiling, remove from heat and slowly add milk, whisking simultaneously, into the yolk/sugar mixture. whisk constantly until all milk is incorporated (you can slowly add milk, then whisk if you’re less coordinated; but work quickly!), then pour mixture back into saucepan. over low heat,¬†stir almost constantly¬†until it thickens (forms a custard). the mixture will coat the back of a spoon at this point, and this means you are ready to go!

pour mixture back into bowl from egg yolk mixture, add ground cardamom,¬†and place that bowl over an ice water bath to cool custard quickly. for best results, chill overnight to develop flavor. once ready, freeze in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions (usually 15-20 minutes). freeze overnight.

Salted Caramel Powder
makes at least 1 cup

printable version (caramel powder only)

2 c sugar
Maldon sea salt

Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil. In a large heavy skillet, heat sugar over medium heat. Swirl sugar, but try not to stir. Once sugar melts, it will slowly caramelize. If clumps form, stir to melt sugar. Remove from heat once caramel is light gold.

Pour hot mixture, carefully, onto sheet pan. Move around to make a thin sheet. Let hot caramel cool and harden, about 30 minutes.

Once caramel is cooled, remove from sheet pan and break into small chunks. Add chunks into a (dry!!) food processor and blend until a powder forms. Place in a dry container and refrigerate. Stores for 1 month, if it lasts that long!

Nectarine, Living Reflections from a Dream

top crust nectarine pie; creme fraiche ice cream

We took a road trip up to Madison, WI two weekends ago to kick off a couple of busy months ahead. In addition to hanging out with a really cute kid and his parents, we also had the pleasure of attending a really awesome show of local fruits, veggies, oils, and herbs, the Dane County Farmers’ Market. Sure, the Green City Market here in Chicago is nice and is somewhat crowded (especially the crepe stand), but this WI market has a reputation to uphold – that of being the country’s largest farmers’ market. And uphold it did – as our friend put it – you are literally shuffling through the sidewalk like a herd of cattle. This herd happened to be pulling kids in wagons, pushing double seated strollers (I loathe those things and think they should only be used in large open areas without people around. You know, like nowhere), and making a bee line to the stand selling the best bread in the city, maybe the state (?), Stella’s. If you ever go to Madison, at least drive by this market – you will find a new respect for those teeny tiny neighborhood Chicago markets. [Oh, and run to Stella’s for the jalapeno cheese bread.]

cutting top crust

After the market, a loaf of jalapeno bread, and lunch, we headed to another foodie mecca, Brennan’s Market, in search of some great cheeses for the upcoming in-laws n’ friends’ visit. They’re a local business buying direct and stocking loads of cheeses, fresh fruits, and brews. Tasty indeed. The best part? They had little samples of every single fruit. And sample I did.

This, friends, is where I fell in love with the nectarine. I wanted to take that barrel o’ nectarines and run to the car with it. Please… I’d pay – you think I was gonna steal them?! Shame on you. But instead, I settled for 2 nectarines and a block of camembert and gruyere cheeses. Let’s be real – I only brought one pair of jeans for the weekend so I didn’t want to soil myself with nectarine juice. Not that having nectarine juice all over my pants was bad for me – I was saving others from embarrassment. Ya know – taking one for the team. I have to show class every now and then!

top crust

Despite my inability to take home multiple fuzz-less recessive peaches, we still had a great weekend. I enjoy hanging out with normal, laid-back parents – it makes me think that one day I might be able to have a couple rugrats of my own and not totally screw it up. But on the downside, I came home nectarineless. That was a sad state of affairs. And nothing against Whole Foods, but their nectarines just aren’t as good as the ones Brennan’s procured.


But it didn’t stop me. With a weekend full of house guests on the horizon, I knew I’d be able to talk someone into eating a pie if I 1) made it and 2) shoved a plate full of that warm, juicy, fresh-baked nectarine goodness in front of them. And I knew that chance of having said pie eaten would be increased three-fold if I also put a dollop of ice cream off to the side. But what flavor concoction would that be? I immediately remembered a dessert from Napa and an ice cream I swore I’d make – cr√®me fra√ģche. Done & done.

This pie is great for three reasons: the obvious, it tastes delightful. In addition, it’s a show-stopper due to its beautifully scalloped crust that appears intricately designed and unique. But the best reason – it’s even easier to make than your typical pie crust even though it looks harder and so you definitely want to make this one for company. Definitely. Did I forget to mention the cardamom that’s added? Yeah, make that four reasons.

baked and ready

As if the pie isn’t good enough as is, when you add this ice cream to it it becomes a magical dessert that I could probably eat every day. I tell ya, when I had cr√®me fra√ģche ice cream in Napa, I was gulping it up as if I’d never eaten a thing and when it was gone I was sad. I could never make another ice cream (well, maybe basil...) and I’d be happy. And sure, it sounds weird because cr√®me fra√ģche by tranlation is “fresh cream” but by definition is a soured cream. It’s not quite as sour as sour cream but it’s definitely thicker. But weird tasting, it is not. Just ask the other 5 people who scarfed it down with the pie.

Love pie? Want more? Try these:
Strawberry-Mascarpone Tart w/ Balsamic-Thyme Glaze
Classic Key Lime Pie
Andouille & Sweet Potato Pie

almost gone
Top-Crust Nectarine & Cardamom Pie*
Adapted from Bon Appetit, August 2009; Serves 8

printable recipe

I think the topping is so cutesy on this pie. If you want though, you could use this same dough for a regular pie crust. Just par-bake it prior to baking the whole pie to prevent soggy bottoms (poke holes in bottom, line with parchment paper and weights and bake at 350 F until slightly brown, then remove weights and paper and bake a few minutes more). You could even double the recipe and make another top crust. Next time, I might do a top crust like this one but also add a bottom crust.

1 1/4 c unbleached AP flour
1 1/2 t sugar
1/4 t salt
1/2 c (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3 T + ice water

2 1/2 – 3 lbs firm, ripe nectarines; peeled and sliced ~ 1/2 inch thick
1/3 c sugar
2 T cornstarch or arrowroot
2 t fresh lemon juice
1/2 t ground cardamom
1 egg, beaten (for glaze)
1 1/2 T raw or regular sugar

Other: 2-3 inch cookie cutter. I used plain but you can use shapes or scalloped edge too.

For Crust:
Blend flour, sugar, salt in food processor. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 3 T water; pulse until moist clumps form, adding more water if necessary (I added about 4 T). Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and knead briefly just until dough comes together, about 4-5 turns. Flatten into disk and chill at least an hour (or overnight if doing this in sections like I did).

Line baking sheet or other flat surface w/ parchment paper. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 13-inch round. Transfer to sheet and chill 20 minutes. Using your cookie cutter of choice, cut out shapes, spacing close together. If needed, remove scraps and reroll to have about 20 pieces. Keep dough as chilled as possible.

For Filling:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400 F. Place peach slices in medium bowl. Add sugar, cornstarch/arrowroot, lemon juice, cardamom and toss to coat. Transfer to 9-inch glass pie dish. Carefully arrange cutouts atop filling in slightly overlapping concentric circles, starting at edge and working inward to cover filling completely. Brush with egg and sprinkle with sugar.

Place pie on rimmed baking sheet (or else your filling will spill into your oven and smell icky!!). Bake until crust is golden and juices are bubbling at edges, about 45 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack and cool at least 30 minutes.

Cr√®me Fra√ģche Ice Cream*
Adapted from multiple sources

printable recipe

2/3 c sugar
5 egg yolks
2 cups cr√®me fra√ģche
1 1/2 c low-fat milk
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 t lemon zest
pinch of salt

Place eggs and sugar in bowl and whisk together to blend. In large saucepan, combine cr√®me fra√ģche, milk, lemon juice and zest. Stir over medium heat until hot but not boiling. Gradually pour mixture into bowl of egg yolk/sugar mixture to slowly warm but not cook the eggs. Return all to saucepan and stir constantly over medium heat. It’s ready when an instant-read thermometer reads 170 F or when custard coats the back of a spoon and stays separate if you run your finger through the middle. You can strain here, but I usually don’t cause I’ve never had any chunks in the mixture, but if you do (from eggs partially cooking) you should strain. Pour into bowl and set over another large bowl filled with ice water to cool. Cover and chill.

Transfer to ice cream maker and process according to instructions. Move to ice cream container and freeze until firm, at least 6 hours.

*Pie is not gluten-free; ice cream is gluten-free

Allez Cuisine!! Battle Basil

Battle Basil group

Late one night I was sitting at home thinking to myself how incredibly fun it might be to start some sort of social group with local friends. But I wondered, w hat kind of social group would really be something to look forward to and do time and time again? Book clubs seem a little overdone (and boring. and I don’t have time to read anything more than what I do) and wine clubs are a little too “high class” for me, even though I do love a good glass (or bottle) of red wine. But then I thought about cooking. To be sure there are others out there that enjoy cooking enough to join together in some sort of cooking group. And then it hit me – an Iron Chef party. Awesome!!! But since my kitchen isn’t quite the “Kitchen Stadium” as the one on TV, how about a way to prepare food in advance? So then the idea of an Iron Chef Potluck Party was hatched. I emailed a few peeps I thought would be interested and to my delight, they all were super excited, if not super duper excited, about it.¬†¬†¬†


thai basil shrimpDSC02001.JPG 

It’s as simple as this: the first host chooses the “Theme Ingredient” and emails it to the attendees the day before the Battle. Then the guests prepare 1 dish (or more) to “support and enhance” that ingredient. We judge in the style of Iron Chef (10 points for taste, 5 for presentation and 5 for creativity) and at the end of the night the reigning Iron Chef is announced! The prize, as if participating isn’t prize enough, is choosing the next ingredient. Who hosts gets figured out along the way.¬†¬†¬†

fried mozarella with basilstrawberry panna cotta with basil balsamic 

So the first Battle was held last weekend and it was a BLAST. We had a whole bunch of great dishes and (I’m not lying here) they were all really good. The hard part was judging in terms of the theme ingredient and NOT on the taste alone – otherwise they would have all received high marks! Getting started was sorta funny – we all scurried towards the table to eat, plate in one hand and scorecard in the other. Some ate and then scored while others ate and scored simultaneously. I was in the latter group, but could only go for about two dishes at a time before I got all frazzled.¬†¬†

crab basil risottoblackberry crumble  


I made a couple of dishes and a beverage.  


Overall, it was good times. We decided to Battle every month, which should be really fun. I’m sure others will join as the popularity increases! The next “Battle” will be on April 4th. Since I won with the above cake/ice cream combo, I get to pick the next Theme Ingredient – yay!! Stay tuned! I’ve got a pretty long list of possible ingredients, so luckily I have a while to pick.¬†


Chocolate Basil Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting
Adapted from
Camilla’s blog (You might recognize her from some Food Network Recipe challenges.)

Printable recipe   

1 cup sugar (I used 1/2 cup sugar and a little less than 1/2 cup Baking Splenda)
1 1/2 cups packed fresh basil leaves (more for garnish)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup hot water
1 recipe chocolate sour cream, frosting (below)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 9-inch round cake pan with nonstick baking spray. Place the sugar and basil in a food processor. Process until basil is chopped fine and uniformly green in color (it will look slightly wet).

In a large bowl whisk the melted butter, cocoa powder and basil sugar until well-blended. Whisk in the eggs, 1 at a time, until blended and smooth. Stir in the baking soda, vanilla, orange, and salt. Gradually add flour to bowl, stirring just until blended (do not overstir).

Add hot water to mixture, stirring just until blended. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 22-25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean (mine was 22). Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cool completely, meanwhile prepare sour cream frosting. Spread over cake and garnish with basil leaves. Cut into 12 servings.
Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
6 tablespoon reduced fat sour cream
1 1-ounce square unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium bowl whisk the powdered sugar and cocoa powder; set aside. In a separate medium bowl beat the sour cream and melted chocolate with an electric mixer on low speed until blended. Gradually add sugar mixture to sour cream mixture, beating at low speed until well-blended. Add vanilla and beat well for 1 minute until very smooth and creamy.



Basil Ice Cream

Adapted from various places

2 cups reduced fat milk
1 cup packed fresh basil
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy cream (or 1/2 & 1/2)

Bring milk, basil, 1/4 cup of sugar to simmer in saucepan and remove from heat. Steep basil in mixture for 30 minutes. Transfer to blender/food processor until well blended.

Beat yolks and remainder of sugar in bowl until well blended and pale (using electric mixer is handy). Add milk mixture in slowly, stirring constantly. Pour into saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until spoon is coated with mixture (do NOT boil). Remove and chill, either in fridge or in ice bath, depending on timing.  

Once chilled, pour mixture into ice cream freezer (1 gallon), according to instructions (~20 minutes).  


chocolate basil cake